Air Katrina: Live from the Astrodome, Information for Evacuees


Sept. 16, 2005 — -- Amid the sea of media trucks parked outside the Houston Astrodome sits a silver van. It too is broadcasting news and information, but for a very specific audience -- the evacuees of Hurricane Katrina.

The retro-looking vehicle is the home of KAMP radio, a volunteer project broadcasting six watts of low-power radio at 95.3 FM in Houston, with critical information for those displaced by the storm and now living at the sports arena.

The Katrina Aftermath Media Project is the work of Houston-area media professionals who are determined to get useful information to the evacuees. Many reported receiving conflicting information on housing, schools and making connections with friends and families.

Convinced that radio could fill the void, volunteers began to assemble the low-power station with donated equipment, but were initially denied access to the Astrodome. Undaunted, they moved KAMP to a parking space.

"It's very exciting to finally be on the air," said Rice University media professor Tish Stringer. "I just felt like I spent a week bashing my head against government and bureaucrats … finally we just sidestepped it by being in the parking lot."

The station is entirely run by volunteers, with announcers reading information to the evacuees, who can tune in on radios donated by Sony Entertainment. The station also airs some entertainment -- provided by the audience.

"People who are living in the Astrodome have been stopping and playing live," said Stringer. "A lot … were songs that had just been written about the evacuation system by the evacuees."

With a generator in place, a license from the Federal Communications Commission and a pledge of 10,000 radios from Sony Entertainment, KAMP was set for its debut more than a week ago when they were denied access to the Astrodome.

"We did not have the resources to accommodate them," said Gloria Roemer, communications director for the Harris County, Texas, evacuee program at the Reliant Center, which includes the Astrodome.

"One of their requests was unlimited access for their staff," said Roemer. "There's absolutely no way that we're going to give anyone unlimited access here."

Frustrated, but determined, the organizers rethought their plans and managed to begin broadcasting Wednesday from a makeshift station in the parking lot after first obtaining the permit and a usable office space.

Stringer was helped through the process by Prometheus Radio, a nonprofit group that organizes community radio stations in out-of-the-way places, and suggested using a portable trailer.

When Prometheus Radio director Hannah Sasserman began calling around, she found all of the trailers in Houston were already being used by FEMA. So she went to eBay and found a Texas couple who were willing to rent their 1966 Airstream Van for $740. They even drove it straight to the lot.

"I'm always completely awed by the amount of work people will put into something like this," said Sasserman.

She's also noticed donations pouring in from around the world from supporters of low-power radio who wanted to help get KAMP on the air for its displaced audience. "It was because of the great energy of Houston independent media and the extreme importance of building this service … that made this happen," said Sasserman.